The Rape of Sundarī

4.8 (38) Sundarī (Sundarī Sutta)

Thus has it been made known. At one time the Blessed One was residing near Sāvatthī, at the Jeta Grove in Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park. Throughout this time the Blessed One was highly honored and revered and much was deferred to him in supplies of robes and alms-food and medicinal prerequisites for the sick and disabled. But the wanderers of other sects detested wholeheartedly the attention shown to the Dharma Lord and his disciples. And so out of spite they approached Sundarī the female wanderer and asked her, “Good sister, what would you be willing to do for the good of your kinsman?”

She replied to them, “My, what would I do? For the benefit of the people my very life would be put at service, in utmost sacrifice for them.”

“Well if that’s the case,” they responded, “Go often into the Jeta Grove.”

“As you say, brothers,” And so off she went and visited the grotto frequently. Now when it became established that many people had seen Sundarī recurrently visiting the grove, those wanderers defiled and murdered her and buried her body in a hole in a moat surrounding Jeta Grove. Afterwards, they went to King Pasenadi of Kosala and said, “O’ Great king, Sundarì the woman wanderer is missing and cannot be found.” “Where do you suspect she may be,” responded the King,” “Somewhere down in the Jeta Grove,” answered the wanderers.

After being told to search the grounds of the Jeta Wood, those wanderers dug up the body where they had buried it and, placing it on a litter, carried it into Sāvatthī. Showing the body at every crossroad they aroused the ire of the populace shouting, “Do you see, masters? This is the unholy work of the Sakyan son’s contemplatives and recluses! They are in truth shameless and immoral and unworthy of living by the Dhamma! They bear no true qualities of being authentic contemplatives—holy recluses—yea, their recluse status has been soiled and destroyed! They have lost their holy Brahmin status! How could a man, after laying with a woman and doing his manly deed, could even fathom murdering her?”

Riled-up, the citizens condemned the Sakyan contemplatives, hurling abusive comments at them and ridiculing their purported good status in the community. Disheartened, a large number of monks, upon completing their daily quest for alms, approached the Blessed One in a reverent manner and expressed their dismay. “O’ Lord, look how they revile us unjustly! Their great indignation is becoming very hard to handle.”

The Blessed One calmly replied, “This awful commotion will not last long. It shall not stand. It shall continue for seven days more and then after those seven days it will subside and fade-away. So, dear friends, when you are being rebuked and abused with harsh tongues, you should counter their unjust accusations with the following verse:

False accusers will always go to hell,
As well as the one who denies doing an evil deed.
Both are great despoilers with their foul actions,
Being as one in base worlds to come.

And so, taking this verse of the Blessed One to heart, they responded and reprehended others with its message when being attacked and ridiculed.

Soon, the people thought, “These recluses, these honored Sakya sons, are clearly not guilty, why their innocence in this matter is clearly assured!” And so the former great commotion died-down and after seven days, completely disappeared.

Then a number of the monks approached the Blessed One with great jubilation, “O’ Lord, it has happened as you foretold, upon the conclusion of seven days that unjust condemnation has simply vanished-away!”

Thereupon, realizing the significance of all that had transpired, the Blessed One uttered the following inspired verse:

People with uncontrolled anger stab-forth with their vile tongues,
Doing so like an elephant with huge tusks going into battle.
But upon discerning such harsh words are thus spoken in vain,
The monk should endure them without reproach.

Sakyan son’s: Sakyaputtiyā. “Son of the Sakyans” was one of the names by which the Buddha was known, Sakya being the clan from which he came. (Ireland)

Clearly this is one of the most disturbing tales in the Udāna. It serves as a metaphor of the drastic and heinous measures one would go to in order to ruin someone’s reputation. The rape, murder, and desecration of this young woman wanderer is repellent, but indeed not far from what actually occurs in samsaric-hell. What would one do if accused so unjustly of this vile action? The Buddha’s admonitions in this regard are time-honored and well-placed and well-remembered: False accusations in the long run will not stand the test of time; eventually what is done in the dark will be brought out and revealed under the light of Holy scrutiny and Truth. And the perpetrators of such acts who continue to remain in denial are planting the seeds of their own forthcoming ignominious karma and rebirth in their own self-made purgatories and hells. Actions will always be counteracted in similar fashion; there is no escape from this unalterable veracity.

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